How long do I have to claim for a work accident?

Warehouse workers

In the UK, claimants have a limited time to claim compensation for injury or illness.

The time limit for making a work accident claim follows the same rules as most other types of injury claims. You have 3 years to start your claim, from the date of the accident, or from the date you were diagnosed with a work-related illness.

Time limits for injury claims are defined in the Limitation Act 1980. If you do not start your claim before the time limit expires, your claim becomes 'statute barred' and you will be unable to proceed.

However, the date when the 3-year timer starts (and so how long you actually have to claim) will vary according to the circumstances of your work injury or illness.

Work accident time limits

If you were injured in a slip, fall or any other accident at work, you have 3 years to start a claim for compensation from the date of the accident. Examples of other situations where the time limit starts from the date of the incident include injuries caused by an accident involving:

The time limit will also usually start from the date of the incident if you suffered a manual handling injury when trying to move or lift a heavy object and experienced pain at the time.

If the pain only develops later, or pain emerges in the form of an overuse injury, the time limit starts from the date you were aware of your injury.

Occupational illness and industrial disease claim time limits

If you were made ill by your working conditions, or developed an occupational illness or industrial disease due to your work, the 3-year time limit usually starts from the date you learned that your condition was work-related (or reasonably should have known). This is referred to as the date of knowledge.

The date of knowledge is the point in time when you became aware of the following key facts:

  • That your injury or condition existed
  • That your injury or condition was serious enough to warrant compensation
  • That your employer (or ex-employer) was either fully or partly responsible for your injury or condition

Examples of work-related illnesses where the 'date of knowledge' principle usually applies include:

How does "reasonably should have known" relate to the date of knowledge?

The "should have known" principle applies in circumstances where you were aware that you had a health condition, such a VWF or a back injury, but delayed seeking medical attention.

In such a case, the 3-year timer starts counting from the approximate date that, if you had promptly sought medical attention, you would have discovered that your ill health was work-related.

If you were involved in an accident at work that didn’t result in obvious symptoms immediately, such as a chemical spill, the date of knowledge will usually still be the date that you begin to show symptoms rather than the date of the accident.

One possible exception would be where you had initially received an incorrect diagnosis, and only later received a correct second opinion.

Your solicitor will investigate the timeline of events and determine whether you are likely to be out of time.

Read more:

Work-related illness claims

Industrial disease claims

Work-related criminal injury compensation time limits

If you were injured in a workplace assault, the time limit will depend on whether your employer’s negligence led to your injuries.

Criminal injury claims are usually made through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). Unlike other injury claims, CICA claims have a 2-year time limit, starting from the date of the criminal injury.

However, you may still have 3 years to claim if the criminal injury was caused (fully or partly) by a negligent act or omission by your employer. For example, if you were assaulted by a coworker or member of the public, and your employer failed to take reasonable measures to protect you, the longer, 3-year limit may apply.

If you were assaulted at work and unsure how long you have to claim, you should speak to a solicitor as soon as possible. Your lawyer will confirm whether you should follow the CICA route, or make a claim against your employer, and therefore how much time you have left to claim.

Work accident claim time limits for under 18s

Whatever the circumstances of your injury, if you were injured under the age of 18, you have until your 21st birthday to start a claim. In effect, the standard 3-year time limit applies, but starts from your 18th birthday.

This principle applies to work accidents. In the UK, the minimum working age is 13 for part-time work and school-leaving age (approx. 16) for full time employment. In addition, younger children may also work in film, theatre or as a model, if they have a performance licence.

Regardless of how young you were when you were injured at work, you still have until your 21st birthday to make a claim. Exceptions also exist if you are disabled, whether due to your injury or not, and are unable to claim within the standard time limit.

Read more:

Child injury compensation claims

Fatal work accident claim time limits

No amount of financial compensation can make up for the loss of a loved one, but UK law seeks to offer some redress for fatal injuries and illness caused by an employer’s negligence.

Specific legislation covers claims for fatal accidents, including the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934. Under these Acts, the dependents of a deceased worker can claim compensation for their loss.

The same 3-year limit applies, starting from the date the injured person died, or the date their dependents learned that the death resulted from another party’s negligence (if this date is later).

If the deceased’s dependents are under 18, they have 3 years to claim from the date the child turns 18. Disabled dependents may also have longer to claim compensation, at the discretion of the court.

Read more:

A guide to fatal accident compensation claims

Time limits for work accidents abroad

If you were injured while working abroad, the time limit for starting a claim will vary depending on the circumstances of your accident.

If you were injured working outside the UK, but for a UK-based company, you may be able to claim through the UK courts. In this case, the standard time limits set out above will apply.

If you were injured working abroad, for a non-UK company, the time limit will depend on the jurisdiction. Depending on the country, it may be possible to claim through the courts of the country where the accident happened, or where the company itself is based.

Countries’ claim time limits vary considerably. Although the 3-year limit is applied in many countries, in Spain, the limit is usually 1 year from the date the claimant is able to claim. In contrast, the time limit in France is 10 years. In the USA and Canada, time limits vary by state and province.

If you have been injured abroad, you should still contact a UK-based work accident specialist firm for advice. Several major UK firms have long-standing relationships with firms in other jurisdictions, and may be able to recommend a local firm to assist you.

Read more:

Claims for injury and illness abroad

Can I claim for a work accident after the 3-year time limit expires?

Exceptions to the 3-year limit are extremely limited.

If your injury was sufficiently serious that you were unable to make a claim within the three years, a court may agree to an extension under Section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980. Other exceptions are listed under Part II of the Act.

Under the Mental Health Act 1983, if someone lacks the mental capacity to make a claim following their work accident, as a result of a serious brain injury or debilitating psychological trauma, they will likely be given longer to make a claim.

A claimant may also have longer to claim compensation if the defendant’s fraud or dishonesty meant that the claimant was unaware of their injury, or the work-related cause of their injury. One example would be where a worker is exposed to a hazardous chemical at work that the employer claims is harmless, and the worker then becomes ill, unaware of the link between their exposure and their illness.

Any extension would be at the court’s discretion, and extensions are only granted in exceptional circumstances.

Can I still make a work accident claim if I’m close to the time limit?

If you think you may be close to the 3-year limit, you should contact a solicitor as soon as possible.

The time limit sets the date by which a solicitor must have filed papers to start the formal claims process, and solicitors are usually unwilling to commit to this course unless informal negotiation is unsuccessful.

It takes time to properly assess a potential claim before a law firm will agree to take it on. Once a solicitor accepts the claim, it takes additional time to gather evidence, complete a medical assessment and negotiate a suitable compensation settlement.

For these reasons, some firms are reluctant to take on claims that are close to the time limit. The informal cut-off varies from firm to firm, but will usually range from 3 to 6 months before the actual 3-year deadline, depending on the complexity of a claim and a firm’s experience and area of expertise.

My claim was rejected - Can I get a second opinion?

Yes. If your claim has been rejected by one solicitor, whether because the time limit is too close or any other reason, you should always get a second opinion from another firm.

As explained above, different firms have different criteria for assessing claims, and it may be that another firm with more experience dealing with claims like yours, or dealing with the insurance company acting for your employer, will happily take on your claim.

Read more:

Why might a solicitor reject my claim?

I am ready to claim now, what should I do?

The first step is to contact a solicitor for a FREE initial claim assessment.

You can find out if you have a claim in minutes by speaking to a legally trained advisor on 0800 376 1001. Your solicitor will put no pressure on you to proceed with a claim.

If you have any questions, or would like to start a No Win No Fee work accident claim, we are open:

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Chris Salmon, Director

Chris Salmon, Director